Pumpkin Spice. Nuff Said

I have a problem.

Actually, I got 99 problems but…

Right.  Family show.  Moving on.

So,let’s focus on my two biggest problems of the moment:

  1. I cannot for the life of me back down from a challenge, even when (especially when) it comes from my four-year-old.
  2. I have zero capacity for resisting anything that comes labeled as “pumpkin spice.”

There’s a humorous back story here, and a semi-related and wholly hilarious YouTube video parody to go along with it.  The back story is this:

Our oldest son goes to preschool three days a week, for two and a half hours each day.  He takes a snack every day, and he really loves to pick what he’s going to take- though, some days he prefers to be surprised; it really is a mood thing.  Among his favorite snacks to take are yogurt, these seasoned pretzels, fruit, graham crackers, goldfish crackers, and granola bars.  I started making my own granola bars about two years ago because they go REALLY fast in our house.  Ryan loves them at breakfast time.  And after dinner. They’re perfect for the boys’ “after nap snack,” as our oldest says.  And I love them too.  So those little boxes of eight that you pay $2 for?  Doesn’t even get us through a day- I can’t justify it when it takes just a few basic ingredients and little more skill than one needs when making Rice Krispy Treats.  So last week, the little guy asked me if we had any granola bars for me to send for his snack this week.  I didn’t, at the time, but I’d purchased what I needed with the intention of making some.  Then, he said these magic words: “Mom, could you make pumpkin spice granola bars?”

The words were music to my ears.  I immediately began searching for recipes.  Google, Pinterest, and all of my cookbooks.  But…I kept coming up empty.  I had a few results, but nothing that really sang to me (or the ingredients I had on hand.)  Sadly, I couldn’t let it go.  I had to find something that would work.  Because, not only had my baby boy asked me for something and I wanted to deliver, but also because it’s October and I’ll put pumpkin in ANYTHING this time of year!  So, I resorted to experimentation.  I went to my go-to granola bars recipe, then found one recipe on Pinterest I could tweak to my needs, and attempted to mash the two together. (By the way, if you’re following the links to check out the recipes, note that the first one is for a 13×9 pan-sized batch; the second is for an 8×8).

And so…the first attempt turned out to be pretty decent.  I would say they could still use a little something (chocolate chips are at the top of that list.  I’d also say mixing in a half a cup or so of finely chopped pecans might take this right up to where it needs to be).  But, for my first attempt and also for a completely fabricated recipe, on the first try, I’m a little proud of myself.  And my boy was happy, so, yay me!

Wanna try them?  Here’s how I did it:

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3/4 cup canned pumpkin
1/4 cup peanut butter
1/4 cup plus 2 Tbsp honey
1/3 cup brown sugar
1 1/2 tsp vanilla
1/4 tsp salt
Heat over medium-low heat until just boiling.
Add:
1/4 tsp salt
2 tsp pumpkin pie spice

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Pour immediately over:
2 cups quick-cooking oats
2 cups crispy rice cereal
1/4 cup wheat germ (or flax-seed)

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Stir to combine, then pour into a 13×9 pan
lined with aluminum foil (this makes it easier to
pull the bars out to cut them, and also helps with
cleanup)

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If you’re going to add chocolate (and, by all means, DO!), make sure you don’t mix them into the pumpkin mixture; they’ll become a melty mess.  Instead, once you’ve pressed the bars into the pan (I use a sheet of waxed paper.  Press HARD), sprinkle 1/3 cup or so over the top, then press gently once more.  And if you’re thinking of adding nuts (I totally will next time; this version is missing a bit of crunch), add them to the oats, cereal, and wheat germ or flax-seed.  Probably 1/4 to 1/3 cup is a good starting point.  And when you fall in love with these…

you can thank my son. Because I’m off to Starbucks for a PSL.

Cheers!
xoxo

~d

 

 

 

Desserts. Because who needs dinner?

My friend Tas frequently labels my cooking as “gourmet.”  While this may or may not be an accurate description (I’m leaning more toward NOT!), I think her encouragement has subliminally planted itself in the part of my brain that takes over in the kitchen, and has led me to be, if nothing else, a bit more daring.  And a lot more hungry for dessert.

Lately, Ryan and I have become semi-addicted to the Food Network show Chopped.  If you’re not familiar, four contestants are unleashed in a kitchen with a basket full of random mystery items that must be made into a gourmet meal.  There are three courses: appetizer, main course, and dessert.  After each course, the contestant with the least tasty or least cohesive dish gets “chopped” and goes home.  Basket items typically include one type of protein, one fruit or vegetable, and one pre-packaged item (think Ramen noodles in the appetizer round, or boxed mac and cheese in the dessert round).  This show has led me to be somewhat creative with the ingredients I have on hand; it’s good practice for cooking techniques, if nothing else.

Tonight, I focused on dessert.  In fact, dinner was sort of atrocious compared with the desserts I served.  Yes, you read that correctly: dessertS.  Plural.  I made soup and salad and sliced some French bread for dinner, and served multiple desserts.  So sue me.

Fall is really evident around here this week; the leaves are showing their full range of gorgeous color and floating gracefully to the ground, and the temperature- while still decent- is cooler than I’d prefer.  When the weather changes like this, I think soup.  Since we’ve already had a few batches of cheeseburger soup and chili, I changed it up tonight with a big pot of broccoli and cheese soup.  I had made broccoli cheese soup only once before, about six years ago when we first moved in here.  Since Ryan was still anti-vegetables at that time, I basically made it for myself.  And it was awful.  I had no desire to try to make it again; I have a mom and two aunts who make awesome broccoli soup.  (Kidding.  Sort of).  This week, I mentioned broccoli soup, and Ryan sort of latched onto the idea as something he might be interested in trying.  While we were in the grocery store on Monday, he picked up a head of broccoli and asked me if that’s what I needed to make the soup.  We were going to try it again.

This afternoon I dug out the recipe my mom had given me all those years ago and took my time assembling the ingredients.  The process was much easier than I had remembered, and now I’m not sure what I did the last time but my confidence is restored.  Here’s how I did it:

Broccoli and Cheese Soup
4 Tbsp butter
1 onion
2-3 garlic cloves
3 cups chicken broth
1 potato, peeled and cubed
3 cups broccoli florets
2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
1/2 cup milk plus 1- 1/2 Tbsp flour, whisked together
 
Melt butter in a Dutch oven over medium heat.  Add onion and garlic; saute until translucent and soft.  Add chicken broth and potato; cook till potato is tender.  Meanwhile, microwave broccoli for 3-4 minutes until tender; chop into very fine pieces and add to soup.  Add milk and cheese; stir to combine.  
 

Yes.  It really is THAT simple.  Please don’t ask how I messed it up before.

Apparently, that success fueled my ambition and the pears on the counter grabbed my attention.  Several years ago for Christmas, Ryan’s parents gave me a Tuscan cookbook.  In the cookbook was a recipe for pears with a Marsala wine sauce.  Peanut picked some pears from the orchard for me over the weekend, so I decided to try it.  First, I peeled two pears, but left the stems (as sort of decoration).  I sliced the bottoms off, and used a fillet knife to remove the cores.  Then I placed them in a saucepan with 1/8 cup sugar and two cinnamon sticks, and let them cook over low heat until the mixture boiled.  Once the water reached a low boil, I covered them and let them continue cooking (still over low heat) for about a half hour, until they were tender.  Finally, I removed the pears from the cinnamon-flavored sugar water and let it cook awhile longer, until the sauce was thickened.  Once it was the consistency of a syrup, I stirred in 1/4 cup of Marsala wine.  Y.U.M!

I was on a roll; while I’m not a “band-wagon” type of person, I’m in love with the fact that caramel seems to be THE flavor this fall.  (Truth be told, caramel is one of my all-time favorites.  Our wedding cake three years ago had a caramel filling, and my new favorite cheesecake recipe from last fall was swirled caramel and peanut butter.  NOT on the bandwagon, people.  Not that there’s anything wrong with that.)  A few weeks ago, Ryan and I tried a new restaurant in town for lunch, and we ordered dessert afterward: a warm fudge-y brownie with a salted  caramel sauce.  Let me just tell you: To.Die.For.  We left with me vowing to replicate the recipe, somehow, some way.  Tonight I just may have accomplished this goal.  With a pan of hot, homemade brownies on the counter, I followed this recipe to almost perfectly replicate the sauce we had at the restaurant.  Fortunately, it made a whole jarful which is now blissfully chilling in my fridge.

I may or may not have to invent a breakfast recipe to utilize it.

 

 

 

Happy Fall!

xoxo,

~d

Ambition. Some Days it Finds Me.

I was in the kitchen at 9AM this morning.  By 10:30, I had two dinners ready to go for the rest of the week.  Not because I was hungry- I can’t stand to eat much of anything before 1PM- but because it’s cold outside.  Cold, of course, means soup weather.  And comfort food in the crock pot.  Ambitious as I am, I decided to embark on both.  Soup is a staple in this house from September through May, and our most popular choice is Cheeseburger Soup, as I’ve mentioned here before.  However, I’ve never shared the recipe.  Until today.  Just a little something to keep you warm, friends.  You’re welcome.

Cheeseburger Soup
1/2 pound ground beef
3/4 cup onion, chopped
3/4 cup carrot, shredded
3/4 cup celery, diced
1 tsp dried basil
1 tsp dried parsley
4 Tbsp butter or margarine, div.
3 cups chicken broth
4 cups peeled & diced potatoes
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 cups processed American cheese, cubed
1 -1/2 cups milk
3/4 tsp salt
1/3 tsp pepper
1/4 cup sour cream
 
In a 3-quart saucepan, brown beef; set aside.  In the same saucepan, saute onion, carrots, celery, basil, and parsley in 1 Tbsp butter until vegetables are tender (about 10 minutes).  Add broth, potatoes, and beef; bring to a boil.
 
Reduce heat, cover, and simmer for 10-12 minutes or until potatoes are tender.  Meanwhile, melt remaining butter in a small skillet.  Add flour; cook and stir 3-5 minutes or until bubbly.  Add to soup; bring to a boil.  Cook and stir for 2 minutes.  Add cheese, milk, salt, and pepper.  Cook and stir until cheese melts.  Remove from heat and blend in sour cream.  
 

Meanwhile, in the crock pot, I decided to assemble this next recipe for the coming weekend.  Because it requires a couple of different steps and I have a date with my sister-in-law on Saturday that will have me out of the house most of the day, I decided to start today.  Tomorrow I’ll cook the beef, and by Saturday I’ll be able to set it on “Keep Warm” so Ryan and I can eat as we both come and go with no fuss.  We’ve never had this before, but I need a little Mexican in my life now and again.  A little Mexican food, that is… ahem.

Mexican-Style Shredded Beef (from this cookbook)
1 Boneless Beef Shoulder Roast
1 Tbsp ground cumin
1 Tbsp ground coriander
1 Tbsp chili powder
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground red pepper
1 cup salsa or picante sauce
2 Tbsp water
1 Tbsp cornstarch
Taco shells
 
Cut roast in half.  Combine cumin, coriander, chili powder, salt, and red pepper in a small bowl.  Rub over beef.  Place 1/4 cup salsa in slow cooker; top with one piece beef.  Layer 1/4 cup salsa, remaining beef, and 1/2 cup salsa in slow cooker.  Cover; cook on LOW 8-10 hours or until meat is tender.  
 

How about you?  What are your favorite fall recipes?  I haven’t been inspired by any new fall desserts this year; what are your favorites?

 

Cheers!

xoxo,

~d

 
Remove beef from cooking liquid; cool slightly.  Trim and discard excess fat from beef.  Shred meat with two forks.
 
Let cooking liquid stand 5 minutes to allow fat to rise.  Skim off fat.  Blend water and cornstarch until smooth.  Whisk into liquid in slow cooker.  Cook, uncovered, 15 minutes on HIGH until thickened.  Return beef to slow cooker.  Cover; cook 15-30 minutes or until hot.  Adjust seasonings.  Serve meat as filling for tacos, fajitas, or burritos.  Leftover beef may be refrigerated up to 3 days or frozen up to 3 months.  (*ED NOTE: Remember these homemade tortillas?  I think that’s what we’ll be eating this beef with!  Yum!)
 

Perfecting My Skills as a Desperate Housewife

Summertime.  It’s no secret this is my absolute favorite time of the year.  And, maybe the temperature lately has been flirting with the triple-digits, but so what?

Those are signs from above to take a day off and enjoy the oh-so-rare occasion to kick back in the sand and listen to the waves, the seagulls, and the giggling children.  That, my friends, is how my Auntie and I have spent quality time for as long as I can remember.

Ah, life's a beach...

Of course, one can’t spend all one’s time basking in the heat and the sun.  For one thing, one must maintain the illusion of productivity.  For another, beach days are best enjoyed on rare occasions, so as not to destroy the magic.  But two weeks ago, that’s exactly what we did: said to hell with productivity, and to hell with destroying beach magic.  It had been years since we had a beach day.  Like, since the summer I graduated from high school.  So we spent the afternoon on the beach.  And it was pure heaven.

However, for the days I haven’t spent lounging on the beach, I’ve managed to perfect my housewife-ing skills with all the fresh produce we’ve accumulated lately.  Last time we were home, my Momma sent me home with one of her large, home-grown zucchinis, from which I created two loaves of zucchini bread and a zucchini quiche:

This past weekend, we received a phone call from our neighbors, who were desperate to find loving homes for their wealth of garden-fresh produce.  We came home with a yellow summer squash, two more zucchini, a couple of cucumbers, and some garden fresh lettuce.  On Monday, my Auntie presented me with more veggies from my Momma: another zucchini, a couple of peaches, and a bagful of fresh green beans.

Yesterday, I set to work again to get our stash under control.  First, to energize myself, I prepared a roast beef sandwich with Dijon mustard and Swiss cheese and topped it with some of that delicious home-grown lettuce.  While I was munching on that, I sliced up the peaches from Mom and made a pan of peach crisp, adapting from an apple crisp recipe I found (pretty simple: just some butter, flour, brown sugar and cinnamon, and a bit of oats, sprinkled over the fruit and baked.)

While that was in the oven, I sliced up some zucchini to make another quiche.  This time, rather than using pepperoni, I topped it with turkey bacon.  I’ve done this recipe numerous times, and while it doesn’t call for any kind of meat, I always add something: sausage or ground beef.  This will be the first test for the turkey bacon.  I have faith that it will be devoured.

When the crisp came out and the quiche went in, I figured I’d whip up some more zucchini bread.  I love zucchini bread, and when frozen, it will keep for awhile.  I got two loaves out of the ingredients I had.  But that took care of both my flour and brown sugar, so I called it quits on the recreational creations and moved on to dinner.  Boring.  We had Delmonico steaks and some hibachi-style mixed vegetables: mushrooms and onions, zucchini and broccoli, with some sesame seed oil and teriyaki sauce in the cast iron skillet on the grill, and some white rice.  Few dishes.  Score.

Today was an errand-running day, as well as a long-overdue lunch with my friend Kayla and her two little munchkins.  After indulging in some retail therapy and lunching with my former partner-in-crime, I headed home and back to the kitchen.  It was time to tackle those beans.

Since we received a whole shopping bag-full, there was no way we would ever eat them all.  One of my favorite family traditions that I’m happy to apply to my adult life is the process of bean-freezing.  There’s something about opening that bag of frozen beans in the dead of winter that pulls me out of the doldrums and reminds me that there’s hope.  Green beans will come again.  Since I was little, helping Mom with the beans has been an activity of comfort to me.  I can snap those suckers in nothin’ flat, with quick, sure movements I don’t think my hands are capable of for anything else.  It’s sort of therapeutic to let my hands do the work while my mind wanders.  And today, before I knew it, the kitchen sink was full of bean pieces that were ready to be blanched, bagged, and frozen.

Currently, my produce inventory is down to a manageable level.  We have enough veggies for dinner for the next couple of days, enough fruit for some smoothies, and maybe a little leftover for some experiments.  If I find anything good, I promise I’ll share.

What about you?  What are your favorite summer veggie recipes?  Do you store things for winter?  Do you grow your own?  Inquiring minds want to know!

Cheers!

xoxo,

~d